"Monster", the first story I'd ever read by Kelly Link, literally made my neck twitch, which is not an easy thing to do. It is also an excellent example of the quality that permeates her entire collection - the quality of Wrong.
I'm not referring to Wrong in a moral, ethical or societal sense. I'm referring to that subtle ache one gets when something is vaguely Wrong, when something nebulous is unsettling the lizard brain. That is the quality that best defines all of the stories in Link's collection, although it shows up most strongly in "Monster," which is about a scout troop's camping trip, an urban legend, and a monster in the woods. What makes the horror element so effective in Link's work, is the lightness of her hand, the humorous charm of her narrative voice, and the politeness of her monsters - they aren't trying to scare you, they're just being themselves.
In the subtler stories, like "The Wrong Grave," Link uses communicative ambiguity to great effect. She allows the narrator to connect with the reader, then destabilizes the reader's sense of not-Wrong with the narrator's subtle Wrong-ness. The result of this is that I finished the story feeling vaguely disturbed for reasons I couldn't pin down.
The only place that I felt even slightly dissatisfied with the collection is exemplified by the story, "The Faerie Handbag". It's a completely successful story that borders more on fantasy than horror. Still, the story's narrator is incredibly, if subtly, unreliable. What left me dissatisfied was the potential for a deeper exploration of the narrator - why does she believe what she believes? Why is she telling us this story? Is she having fun at our expense? Is she traumatized? Is she mad? There were a lot of psychological possibilities at play and I wanted Link to explore them. That said, I recognize that this is a matter of writerly preference - while I as a writer who tends to plumb characters' psyches, Link's story functions successfully without doing so. It's just a matter of taste.
Kelly Link is one of the most exciting young writers around right now, and the fact that she writes genre fiction in the short story form is especially exciting, given how far out of favor the short story form has fallen... but then, that's a discussion for another post. It's enough to say that Kelly Link's collection is a well-crafted, funny and subtly disturbing read. The experience of reading Pretty Monsters is like being tickled while the world tilts around you, and that, as experiences go, is one that I would recommend.